My manager keeps saying we’re friends, then in team meetings she throws me under the bus whenever there is a team mistake. When I confront her about it, she says it’s important she doesn’t show me any favoritism because she’s a new manager. How should I handle this? — D.M., New York, NY
By overcorrecting, your manager is reinforcing that you are different from other team members—the exact opposite of what she says she wants to do. By unfairly targeting you, she might also be damaging your reputation. Neither is ideal.
Your goal is to normalize the work relationship. Ask for a meeting and make sure you hold it in her office. You want to be clear that this is a business conversation. As a new manager, she’s likely to be defensive about any hint of criticism. Therefore, make sure you’re using “I” in the conversation so she can’t misunderstand you.
It could sound something like this: “Jane, I’d like to talk to you about the dynamic we have at work. We’ve talked about how uncomfortable I feel when I believe you’re singling me out when the whole team makes a mistake. And I totally get that you feel you have to be harder on me so it doesn’t look like you’re playing favorites. However, the unintended consequence is that I believe my reputation is being affected and that’s not fair to me.”
Don’t get into a discussion about whether it’s true that your reputation is being affected. This isn’t about what she believes—this is about perceptions that are being created. If you think such perceptions are being created, that’s all that’s important. Keep her focused on solutions. Ask her to treat you exactly like she treats others—it might help if you take a break from seeing each other outside of work until you sort out the office dynamic.
Remind her that it’s important that you two work it out because you are both being judged. Agree on how you’ll let her know if you feel singled out. Make sure she knows that you assume her behavior isn’t an indictment of your work. It’s going to take time for her to acclimate as a manager. Give yourself a private timeline. If the dynamic doesn’t change, you may need to reevaluate whether you want to stay in her department.